As this is my fourth annual pilgrimage to ATX, I’m well aware of what a brutal, mind-numbing odyssey the trip out from Nashville can be. So this year, I wondered, “How can I make it even more brutal?” The answer: Drive the whole 14 hours by myself. It was every bit as grueling as you’d imagine. I hit the ground running as soon as I landed in town and ended up with a mouthful of Nashville as soon as I walked in. Chasing a free booze/food tip, I accidentally wound up in American Songwriter’s Billy Reid and K-Swiss Shindig where the likes of Thirty Tigers/Those Darlins’ JT Turner and NBN honcho Jason Moon Wilkins were milling about, and Nashville’s former best-kept secret Caitlin Rose was about to serenade the room.
Catching Caitlin at an away game isn’t that much different from the ones on her home turf. The crowd is just as a big, the audience is just as (if not more) appreciative, and Rose doesn’t skimp on that trademark sassy charm.
You remember that Factory Party at Next Big sponsored by Eventbrite? They had one of those here. It was also awesome. Free T-shirts, booze, SWAG, temporary tattoos and even “greaser” makeovers were flying the free flag while an onslaught of unknown bands kept a steady flow on two remote stages.
From there, it was a short trip back to Casa de Gravy: a tiny chateau on South Congress whose floors are covered wall to wall with Nashville’s finest photographers, pizza buds and bloggers. Oh, and there’s goats.
My attempt to catch Yuck around 8:15 was met with a line the length of my lower intestine. (Apparently it’s really long if you unravel it and lay it out all long and shit.) Instead I opted for a punk-tastic lineup at Emo’s. At this point, I’m going on my 36th hour without sleep, and Trash Talk’s brutal ’80s hardcore assault wasn’t exactly what the free clinic ordered. Still, their wrecking ball rumble ain’t nothing to fuck with, so I politely endured the pain in the name of, you know, whatever.
Afterward, I got another chance to see OFF! who were caught playing some of their first shows at this fest last year. Former Black Flag/Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris is a SXSW staple, and his crowd banter is among the most unintentionally entertaining in the biz. Morris will rail on for minutes about the old days at The Church in Hermosa Beach. He also slips in rants about the busy intersection near his L.A. home and at one point slipped into a commercial for Vans shoes (who also sponsored the event).
Oh yeah, and they played some music. As you’d guess from a band that includes members/former members of Black Flag, Red Kross and Burning Brides, this shit is angry. Fast, furious and pissed the fuck off, OFF! rips through classic L.A. hardcore the only way a bunch of crusty old vets know how to do it.
Next came the real treat, the moment everyone endured an extensive, uneventful soundcheck for — the motherfucking Bad Brains. Performances from these senior statesmen of hardcore are rare, so while I was dying to catch ’90s faves Smoking Popes a block down, I’d have been a damn fool to miss this. Once the band finally wandered onstage, the anticipation could have been popped like a balloon, but I can’t really tell if it was or not. Opening with the classic from their 1982 self-titled debut “Attitude,” the band gave us comfort immediately in that they weren’t going to skimp on the old shit. The only time I’d seen the band in a live setting was on a DVD of a CBGB’s gig from the early ’80s, the difference was far from negligible. The now-elderly H.R. isn’t quite the wiggly worm frontman he used to be — he’s a rather stoic and polite figure onstage who stands with his hands folded, patiently waiting for his turn on the mic. His trademark angsty growl is more of a whimpering yodel now, and it was obvious the whole band would have enjoyed playing other jams besides their 30-year-old staples. H.R.’s demeanor brightened considerably during their dub-style reggae jams — complete with over-cranked delay on everything. The audience rewarded them with apeshit-style enthusiasm regardless. But as much as hurts to say, while I’d definitely go see them again, Bad Brains didn’t quite blow my mind as much as I’d hoped.
Around 1 a.m., I finally caught England’s Yuck at Club de Ville. It was their fourth and final show of the evening, and I’d like to say I believe them when they said it was their best. From their vintage Fender Jagmasters to the token female bassist and jangled mess of fuzzed-out guitar melodies, Yuck owes their entire existence to the nearly forgotten essentials of ’90s alt rock. Hindsight is 20/20 as they cherry-pick every element from the era that’s stood the test of time and meld it into a mixtape of almost everything we love from the era: J Mascis’ soaring, frequency bent guitar tones, lackadaisical chord riffs a la Blake Babies, and grungy bass like Sebadoh. Throwback rock of this ilk is all A-OK in my book considering these elements should have never been abandoned to begin with — and I won’t even hold it against them that they were in diapers when this stuff came around the first time.